Everyone Has Reversals

Story Lessons, Big and Small (Warning: Spoilers!)

July 02, 2007

Bitch Bitch Bitch

I got out a lot, into the sun, this long weekend. Honest, I did. But I also spent a little over two hours in the darkness of the theatre, with an old friend named John McClane.

Live Free or Die Hard was a lot of fun. I'm not going to break it down for you... I think you're pretty much going, or not. But something did occur to me during this movie that I think is worth mentioning. Very early on, there's a moment in which a henchman tells another henchman -- both of whom have just screwed up -- "You tell her." And for about .0015 of a second I thought: ooh, is the big baddie in this Die Hard a woman?

It's not. I'm not even spoiling anything -- the villain is not kept secret long. And while a "he" is in charge, his number two is definitely a force to be reckoned with. And it occurred to me: why the heck couldn't the supervillain in this movie have been a woman? And why is this so darn rare?

Here, I think, is the problem, broken down into its problem-parts:

1) A big, bad villain has to be really powerful and bad-ass. That can be a woman, but there's this general feeling that a super-strong woman is an exception to the rule. (Though TV seems to make this exception all the time for gals like Buffy, Veronica, Xena, Sydney Bristow, Jamie Sommers, Painkiller Jane, Jessica "Dark Angel" Alba, etc.)

2) On a related note, many find depictions of evil women lacking in credibility. Women are believed to be more nurturing, more community-minded... less selfish, less on-the-take. My argument to that? Do you find the male villains in action movies credible as human beings?

3) I have to wonder if there's a sense that we won't enjoy seeing a female villain getting the snot kicked out of her when her time comes. I have to say--the new Die Hard doesn't pull a single punch (or McClane-quip) from the female baddie, and I, for one, found that refreshing. I wasn't uncomfortable, because she was his physical match. They were equals; she was no victim.

4) It's possible that many filmmakers are reluctant to write a female villain because the very act of casting a woman as evil can feel political: mean women tend to be either androgynous monsters (Tilda Swinton as Narnia's White Witch), traiterous whores (Lena Olin's Mona in Romeo is Bleeding) or hideous, loveless, jealous, bitter crones (pretty much any Disney villain from the '30s through 1989). To that, I say the obvious: well then, do something else with your mean ladies!

Now, I don't expect to reconcile everything about men and women and the male gaze, and give birth to a new form of feminism that makes everyone feel equal to the point where characters are accessing the whole spectrum of human possibility... but wouldn't it be cool if I did? Take that, all you people who think blogging's a waste of time! Ha! (Hey, would you guys mind backing me up here? Could you go ahead and write some awesome female villains, that are interesting and credible and ass-kicky, so my blog legacy will live on? Thanks, I owe ya!)

*Props to Joss Whedon for Glory and Jasmine, among others, as well as Glenn Close for her Marquise. Feel free to add your props-deservers below.

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Anonymous Kat said...

Kudos Jennica.
Especially since in Live Free or Die Hard she could have kicked the snot out of Timothy at any time. She was subservient to him? Gimmee a break. That being said...I had a blast watching the movie.

3:44 p.m.  
Blogger m said...

Do you think, maybe, it could have to do with the gross generalization that when women are evil, they are psycologically evil, and when men are evil, they are physical? So women are matched with women (Devil Wears Prada, Mean Girls) while men are matched with men (Die Hard, etc.)?

9:22 a.m.  
Anonymous Kat said...

I think actor ego probably comes into it as well. Can't think of a single man who wants to be physically bested by a woman on the silver screen.

12:53 p.m.  
Blogger OpenChannel said...

Great post. I think Kat might be on to something there.

One of my favourite ass-kickers (although she wasn't the villain) is Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight.

I see most female ass-kickers on TV as trendy and gimmicky, like it was suddenly "cool" to have an adventurous vampire killing heroine. It's still a novelty.

In some ways I find female villains even more frightening because they can also be charming at the same time. I loved Sarah Clarke as Nina Myers in 24. She definitely scared me.

9:01 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She was superhuman though, after getting the shit bashed out of her by McLane in the vehicle, somehow she never flinched at her injuries and was still able to put up a fight

9:12 p.m.  
Blogger Jennica said...

I think there's really something in that psychological evil point... hence my love of Glenn Close's Marquise in Dangerous Liaisons (and, I suppose, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction?). And the actor ego point is a great one, too.

I just can't help thinking how much fun it would be to see more of the men-on-women thing. Mix it up more. Remember how fun the battle between Wolverine and Deathstrike in X-2 was? Action paired with sexual tension, and claws! (I'm losing any feminist cred I had, aren't I?)

4:28 p.m.  
Blogger Dante Kleinberg said...

M: But the bad girl in Die Hard was physical and the bad guy was intellectual. I don't think the bad guy through one punch that wasn't against a tied-up person.


Yes I too was excited to see the male action hero actually beat-up up the female villain. It shows we're reaching towards equality. It used to be only the female sidekick was allowed to punch the female henchwoman.

8:55 a.m.  

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